Football – and nonsense FA Cup “shocks”

There are many reasons to despise modern soccer – FIFA, racism, spitting, tribal bullshit, commercialisation, disrespect and so on – but while punditry remains so dire I think I’ll keep my distance. The worst thing is that good friends lose the plot when the topic switches to football. Clever people can at a stroke sound as dim as Gary Lineker and his TV mates.

The response to this weekend’s FA cup results sums it all up. Chelsea lost to Bradford and Manchester City lost to Middlesbrough. They were not the expected results but did it merit the Telegraph’s “The day English football went bonkers” and the BBC’s Match of the Day pundit calling the Chelsea result the “biggest shock of all time“. Worse still, a viewer vote on MOTD suggested that 77% of people agreed that it was – repeat – the biggest shock of all time. Oh dear. A double blow – common sense and phone/internet polling both shown up.

Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, was moved to say “[The results yesterday were] a huge surprise. …… it is only in our sport that lower division teams can beat those of the higher divisions.” Oh really? The only sport where lower ranked teams or players can beat higher ranked counterparts? Come on, Arsene. (Incidentally, I am now watching the Australian tennis open and note that only once in the last five years have the top two seeds made the final!)

Except “shocks” happen every year in the FA (and every other) cup. As recently as 2013, non-league Luton won at Premier League Norwich. Sometimes there are two shocks in one year! We only have to go back to March last year to see the last “shock” defeat of Manchester City. Wigan were, it was reported, able to “deliver one of the most stunning FA Cup upsets in recent memory”.

Mostly results go according to plan. My kings of the predicting game are Fink Tank that is published (behind a pay wall) in The Times, and in the paper every Saturday. The statisticians behind the Fink Tank gave an informative interview here. Before Saturday they gave Chelsea a 97% chance of winning and Man City a 85% chance. To put it another way, Chelsea would lose one in 36 times that game was played. Small odds but (the same) odds that do not stop thousands of people placing money on a number in roulette. Man City would be predicted to lose that game every seventh time.

So, yes, unlikely but THAT unlikely? To repeat, most games went as expected. Today’s three matches all saw the favourites – Arsenal, West Ham and Aston Villa – win. What’s the odds of that? Quite low oddly. There was only a 28% chance that all three won as there was a good chance that one was at least going to draw or worse.


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